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What is Swollen Leg?

Swollen leg in horses, or 'filling', is a condition that is a result of one or more legs becoming swollen, due to a variety of causes. Some causes for this condition may be minor and some may be more serious. Swelling of the leg, or legs, in horses may be present in one single leg, only the hind legs, or in all four. Typically, swollen legs occur in the hind legs, and in addition to being called filling, this condition may be also known as 'stocking up' and is quite common. It is usually the are between the fetlocks and coronary bands that is affected.

Since the legs are in the lower part of the body of the horse, as a result of gravity, fluid can build up due to the leaking of fluid from blood vessels and tissues. This is known as edema, and can occur from issues such as a cut or scratch, or more serious issues such as cellulitis or lymphangitis. Either way, it is important to have a veterinarian take a closer look if your horse has one or more swollen legs.

Cellulitis and lymphangitis are much more serious problems that can be affecting your horse’s legs. Cellulitis is an inflammation of the skin and the soft tissues directly underneath. Lymphangitis develops when the inflammation spreads to deeper tissues and vessels that move lymph through the body. Both can be caused by bacterial infections that enter your horse’s skin through an open wound or scratch, and both require prompt veterinary care.

Swollen leg or legs in horses is the result of a build-up of fluid, called edema, in the lower limbs of horses. This can be the result of several different factors, and cases may range from mild to severe.

Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000

Symptoms of Swollen Leg in Horses

Symptoms horses may have due to this condition are typically observed by the owner. Symptoms of swelling of the legs may include:

  • Swollen leg joint in one leg
  • Swollen leg joints in more than one leg
  • Painful limbs
  • Trauma to the limbs
  • Cuts or scratches on the lower legs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Legs are warm to the touch
  • Lethargy
  • Difficulty walking
  • Lameness

Types

There are several types of swelling in horses, and other types of swelling can occur in different bodily areas. Types of swelling can include:

  • Cellulitis
  • Lymphangitis
  • Edema
  • Suspensory Injuries
  • Windgall
  • Degenerative joint disease
  • Arthritis
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Causes of Swollen Leg in Horses

If your horse’s leg or legs are swollen, there could be several causes. Make an appointment with your veterinarian to determine the precise cause of the swelling. Causes can include:

  • Stall confinement after exercise
  • Not enough exercise
  • Excessive protein in diet
  • Bruising
  • Skin overexposure to moisture
  • Overfeeding
  • Obesity
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Insect bite
  • Scrapes
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Inflammation of the tissue
  • Allergic reaction
  • Inflammation of vessels
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Diagnosis of Swollen Leg in Horses

To begin the diagnostic process, your veterinarian will ask you several questions about your horse’s overall health, his symptoms, the severity of the symptoms, how long they have lasted, and if he has a history of stocking up. 

Once he gets the information from you that he needs, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your horse. He will assess the legs and joints, perform blood work and any other laboratory testing he feels is necessary in order to check for any underlying conditions that may be the cause. This is very important, because some horses have swollen legs from the lifestyle they lead, while for others there is a more serious condition afoot.

He will also check the blood protein, as low blood protein can make the legs swell. He will check your horse’s temperature, and may choose to do imaging techniques to look at the insides of his legs. The vet may then choose to perform an ultrasound or withdraw fluid from his legs to test. In cases of suspected lymphangitis and cellulitis the veterinarian would need to check the fluid and do complete laboratory testing. The vet may also need to come to a diagnosis by utilizing impression smears and bacterial cultures.

Your veterinarian will also want to check to see when was the last time your horse had a tetanus shot, in cases of scratches or more serious open wounds. Your veterinarian will also communicate with you if he feels this is a mild case of stocking up, or you as a horse owner may suspect the same and just want to be sure nothing further is wrong.

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Treatment of Swollen Leg in Horses

For mild cases of stocking up, your veterinarian may recommend a more regular turn-out, massaging the legs with oil or liniment, bandaging, or wearing a leg brace. Other treatment methods may include:

Cold Water

Hosing your horse’s legs with cold water or alternating ice compresses with heat may help ease the swelling. This is typically recommended for horses with mild to moderate cases of stocking up.

Treating Abscesses

Your veterinarian may want to drain any abscess your horse may have in his lower legs. Abscesses or infections can occur from scratches, bites, or other trauma to the legs. Once your veterinarian has drained the abscess, he will thoroughly cleanse the affected leg area with a recommended antiseptic.

Antibiotics & Anti-inflammatories

In cases of cellulitis or lymphangitis, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. He may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medications for any pain and swelling. He will also recommend regular massage in order to stimulate the circulation and in addition, possibly a medicated poultice.

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Recovery of Swollen Leg in Horses

Recovery prognosis is good if your horse has been properly treated. This, of course, depends on the precise cause of the swollen legs. If your horse is suffering from cellulitis or lymphangitis, his recovery will depend on the effectiveness of the medication given and the severity of the infection. These infections can take several weeks to heal, so it is important to be patient in your horse’s healing process.

After treatment, or while you are continuing treatment at home, your veterinarian will explain what you need to do to help him recover. There are things he may recommend you continue doing to prevent swollen legs from happening In the future. Maintaining a healthy weight, good nutrition, a fresh, clean stall, exercise on a regular basis, dry legs that are kept clean, and prompt attention to any scratches or bites can help minimize the risk of your horse contracting this condition.

Your veterinarian will want to see your horse regularly for check-ups, and will give you any further advice on what you can do to help him get well again.

A swollen leg could be symptomatic of a serious medical condition. To avoid high vet care expenses, secure pet health insurance today. The sooner you insure your pet, the more protection you’ll have from unexpected vet costs.

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Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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Swollen Leg Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Thoroughbred

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Twenty Years

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Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Swollen Joints

Horse has swelling in both back legs. Worse after stabling over night, but remain slightly filled when out grazing. They only go back to normal after exercise (a long walk of at least 30mins). Slight heat up leg, but not lame and heat and swelling go after exercise. Is turned out in the field 9 - 10 hours a day on rich grass. Hay ad lib in stable and 2 x hard feeds. This is normal and keeps him at his optimum weight.

Sept. 27, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Without a thorough examination, unfortunately, it is difficult for me to say what might be causing this problem for your horse. It may be dietary, or a cardiovascular issue. It would be best to have them seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine him and see what might be causing this, and let you know what treatment might help.

Oct. 11, 2020

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dog-breed-icon

Paint

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Four Years

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

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0 found helpful

pill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filledpill-rating-filled

Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Swelling Of Hind Leg

The horse Bar somehow found barbed wire in the field yesterday and it wrapped around his hind left pastern and caused swelling to the hip. There was a puncture and abrasion on under the bottom of the fetlock joint. He was cold hoses and iodine was sprayed on it and turned back out. Swelling still hasn’t gone down of this morning and he is still not wanting to apply pressure

Aug. 7, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. I'm sorry that happened to Bar, that is a potentially Serious injury. It would be best to contact your veterinarian and have them come out and check on him, as he may need antibiotic therapy or other anti-inflammatories. I hope that all goes well for him and he is okay soon.

Aug. 7, 2020

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Swollen Leg Average Cost

From 299 quotes ranging from $2,000 - $10,000

Average Cost

$4,000

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